Photography by Inye Wokoma / ljo Arts Media Group

Violet Lavatai and her son Russell live with her sister’s family in Seattle’s Skyway neighborhood. They had their own place until the recession hit and it cost Violet her job as a computer technician for a national gas station chain. Violet is passionate about increasing access to healthier foods for her family, her Samoan community, and her neighborhood. She calls Skyway “the neighborhood that Seattle forgot.”

Up here in Skyway – if we need to go shopping, we have to go down the hill. Up here, you don’t have access to anything; if you want to have access to fresh fruit and vegetables, you would literally have to grow your own.

But if you had asked me when I was working, ‘Would you like to plant your own garden?’ I would have said there was just no way I could do that. My day was filled up until seven or eight o’clock at night.

If I could, I would help people empower themselves by helping the community get a grant to open a store, where everyone has access to healthy food that we can afford… If we had a store, or even a fruit stand, where we had access to fresh fruit, and other good foods, I know it would be profitable…

In the Samoan community, coming here to America intensified the health problems for the older generation; they were getting colon cancer, their diabetes was getting worse. When you come over here to America and you start eating all the processed foods it intensified those ailments. ..

…The bottom line is that people just can’t afford good food. So we don’t buy the good food, we buy the cheapest food we know – the bad food – because it’s cheap and available. Like Top Ramen; we know it’s bad for us, but we buy it anyway because we can afford it.

We know what we need to get rid of diabetes: less sugar, more fruit. This is crazy to me – because sugar is actually cheaper than fruit – per pound. You have access to a bag of sugar, but you can’t afford that bag of grapes.

Can’t we reverse this? Can’t we reverse things so that the fresh fruit and vegetables become dirt cheap and we will instead say, ‘Man I can’t afford that package of Top Ramen; but this bag of apples only cost me a buck!’ That’s the world I want to see.
Got Green’s Women in the Green Economy Project will be releasing a report comprised of over 212 Southeast Seattle women’s voices about green jobs, healthy and energy efficient homes, access to healthy foods, and public transportation. Join us on Saturday, September 24th from 12 to 2pm to hear more from Violet and other women about how everyone can benefit from the Green Economy, especially low income communities of color.

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